11/29/2006 1:00AM

Here's where Woodbine must improve


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine Entertainment Group came out with a press release in June that announced the launching of a task force that would deal with drug control issues, such as the expanding of pre- and post-race testing and detention requirements.

"The well-being of the horse is of paramount concern to the horse racing industry," the release stated. "The confidence of the betting public and racing participants is also critically important."

Something similar was written in a recent Ontario Racing Commission newsletter.

"The integrity of the sport is the key to its success," said John Blakney, the executive director of the ORC. "The future is dependent on all racing fans, as well as the general public, having full and complete confidence in the fairness of the racing experience."

Both Woodbine Entertainment and the commission should be commended for taking a hard-line approach when dealing with drug problems. There are many other areas, however, where handicappers would like to see improvements made in order to make their racing experience less frustrating and more profitable. Here is my Christmas wish list.

* Television: This year's version of Woodbine's TV coverage has made it extremely hard to tell what is transpiring in a race. Unless the field is bunched up, the camera routinely pans back to include all the horses, along with some dead space. In one recent route race, the camera panned so far back that you could see the cars a mile away on Highway 27; they were bigger than the horses.

Handicappers have also missed out on some of the action at key points in races, because several close-ups of the leaders were being shown. Last week, Woodbine's leading rider, Emma Wilson, went down in a spill on the turn, which was missed on TV because the coverage went to a tight shot of the front-runners at the quarter pole at the time she was unseated.

No other major tracks in North America interrupt the flow of races in this manner, simply because these artistic shots are unnecessary.

Nobody has been impacted more by the poor TV coverage than Equibase chartcaller Paul Turney, who said his job has become a nightmare when he sits down to write the footnote for the chart for each Woodbine race.

"I don't like the way they zoom in going into the turn and on the turn," Turney said. "Bettors and trip handicappers want to know if there's any trouble, and it's almost impossible to see it. When you watch the replay, the horses are like little dots, and you can't tell who they are. Trouble is a huge factor in handicapping races, and you miss it all now. The television people have to learn a little about horse racing. They have to realize that the money that's driving it is coming from the betting."

Quality TV coverage is a high priority for serious handicappers, who want to know the status of their horses during the race.

* Workouts: Few things raise the ire of handicappers more than seeing a series of slow workouts on a winning first-time starter, especially if that runner garners significant betting action. This year, one local trainer has won with several first-timers who had many slow works and a few average ones. It doesn't happen a lot, but when it does, the commission should investigate. It may be unlikely that any wrongdoing will be discovered, but an investigation might act as a deterrent for those trying to mislead the betting public.

Another problem is that the commission does not recognize works at farms or training centers in Ontario, such as Adena Springs or Chiefswood. First-time starters sent out by Chiefswood Stable have the majority of their workouts on the farm before they start, and usually only have a few qualifying moves at Woodbine on their official work tab, unless they have been in the United Stakes.

Workouts reported from training centers in the U.S. are compiled on the honor system, a method that is susceptible to cheating. But I believe that most handicappers would sooner see a list of questionable works on a horse's tab than nothing at all. Savvy handicappers can read between the lines and are usually aware that a handful of short drills on a first-timer that were recorded at a training center may only be the tip of the iceberg.

* Gelding a horse can result in dramatic improvement from a runner. Much to the dismay of many local handicappers, Woodbine does not report first-time geldings. Tracks in California and Kentucky report them, and this valuable information should be made available everywhere.

* Woodbine's replays are unavailable online at racereplays.com, which is a shame for casual trip handicappers who want to play Woodbine on big days. Calder has made its replays available on its website free of charge, and Woodbine should do the same.

The wireless Internet connection that is accessible to Horseplayer Interactive members at Woodbine has blocked several useful handicapping websites, such as racereplays.com. Unblocking these sites and making Woodbine's replays available online could increase the handle on live and simulcast racing.